Kurt Vonnegut is a unique voice in the American canon-a writer whose works are hard to categorize, often straddling the space between literature and science fiction, and filled with cutting satire and dark humor. Like Mark Twain before him, Vonnegut's reputation and impact on American writing and reading will continue to grow steadily and increase in relevance as new insights are made.
Vonnegut was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, and studied at the University of Chicago and the University of Tennessee. In the Second World War, he became a German prisoner of war and was present during the bombing of Dresden. This experience provided inspiration for his most successful and influential novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut-admired as much for his views and his "Vonnegutisms" as for his publications-wrote extensively in many forms, including novels, short stories, essays, plays, articles, speeches, and correspondence, some of which was published posthumously.
The Selected Works of Kurt Vonnegut is a collection of noteworthy science-fiction titles penned by a beloved American author. Considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, Kurt Vonnegut’s works offers profound insight into the human condition with words of charm and wit steeped in the rhythms of the everyday and in the extraordinary. This collection includes two of his acclaimed novels, Cat’s Cradle and Galapagos, rounded off by two short stories, The Big Trip Up Yonder and Unready to Wear. In Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut’s fourth novel published in 1963 that explores themes including religion, technology and science with a satirical eye. Galapagos is Vonnegut's meditation on Darwinism, fate, and the essential irrelevance of the human condition. In The Big Trip Up Yonder, Kurt Vonnegut asks what would happen to human society if there was no death? In Kurt Vonnegut’s world, immortality isn’t exactly the gift it’s cracked up to be. Unready to Wear takes readers to the far future, where humanity has evolved to the point that the "spirit" can transcend the body. But there’s a cultural backlash from those who want to return to the body—and believe the spirit should stay there.
Cat’s Cradle (1963) is Vonnegut’s most ambitious novel, which put into the language terms like "wampeter", "kerass" and "granfalloon" as well as a structured religion, Boskonism and was submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for a Master’s Degree in anthropology, and in its sprawling compass and almost uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) invention, may be Vonnegut’s best novel.
Written contemporaneously with the Cuban missile crisis and countenancing a version of a world in the grasp of magnified human stupidity, the novel is centered on Felix Hoenikker, a chemical scientist reminiscent of Robert Oppenheimer… except that Oppenheimer was destroyed by his conscience and Hoenikker, delighting in the disastrous chemicals he has invented, has no conscience at all. Hoenikker’s "Ice 9" has the potential to convert all liquid to inert ice and thus destroy human existence; he is exiled to a remote island where Boskonism has enlisted all of its inhabitants and where religion and technology collaborate, with the help of a large cast of characters, to destroy civilization.
Vonnegut’s compassion and despair are expressed here through his grotesque elaboration of character and situation and also through his created religion which like Flannery O’Connor’s "Church Without Christ" (in Wise Blood) acts to serve its adherents by removing them from individual responsibility. Vonnegut had always been taken seriously by science fiction readers and critics (a reception which indeed made him uncomfortable) but it was with Cat’s Cradle that he began to be found and appreciated by a more general audience. His own ambivalence toward science, science fiction, religion and religious comfort comes through in every scene of this novel.
Timequake (1997) exists in two conjoined versions ("Timequake One"/"Timequake Two") and in meta-fictional mode is a novel about a novel, composed in short, arbitrary chapters and using its large cast of characters and disoriented chronology to mimic the "timequake" which is its subject. Some cosmic upheaval has hurled the entire population a decade back where, in full consciousness (but helplessly entrapped) everyone’s pitiable and embarrassing mistakes are helplessly enacted again.
By this stage of his life--he was 72 the year the novel was published--Vonnegut was still wearing his luminescent bells and Harlequin’s cape, but these had become dusty and the cape no longer fitted. Vonnegut’s exasperation and sense of futility could no longer be concealed or shaped, and this novel is a laboratory of technique (deliberately) gone wrong, a study of breakdown.
Vonnegut had never shown much hope in his work for human destiny or occupation; the naive optimism of Eliot Rosewater in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater had in the damaged veteran Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse-Five become a naive fantasy of escape to a sexual heaven. In the nihilism of Timequake, the only escape is re-enactment, but re-enactment has lost hope and force.
This is no Groundhog Day in which Vonnegut traps his various refugees (many escaped from his earlier works) but a hell of lost possibility. The temporal timequake of the title is the actual spiritual fracture of the 20th century, and in his 73rd year Vonnegut envisions no hope, not even the hollow diversions of Slapstick. Vonnegut’s imaginative journey, closely tracked by his work, is one of the most intriguing for any American writer of the twentieth century.
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